Nan Russell | Only issues

I nearly missed hearing him. Attending the national speakers conference during a particularly complicated and challenging week, I decided to skip the luncheon in order to gain two hours to tackle mounting e-mails and deadline work. But a persistent inner voice reminded me that I should take advantage of the conference. After all, why had I come?

I’m grateful for the nudge that brought me to a table of strangers mid-way through their chicken. As the lights dimmed, I was transported into a compelling personal story of our speaker, Nando Parrado. While his words embraced me, his heart-learned wisdom wiped clean my vision.

You may know the story from his book Miracle in the Andes, or the movie Alive, but hearing him recount the unimaginable ordeal and unspeakable choices the sixteen rugby teammates who survived seventy-two days in subzero weather were forced to make, was both powerful and moving.

I’m not sure exactly when my tears began flowing. It wasn’t when he described how his mother, along with others accompanying the team died on impact, or told of his sister dying in his arms. It wasn’t when he delicately explained the group’s survival decisions, recounted the horror of the avalanche that claimed more lives, or shared his eighty-mile unbelievable trek for help.

No, my tears poured when Nando came home to hug his father, and again years later as he returned to the crash site with his wife and children. But I gave up trying to hide my tears as he punctuated his story with his larger message: tell those you love, every day, how much you love them, because as he learned at nineteen, you never really know if you’ll have another chance.

Near the close of Nando’s talk came words that spoke directly to me. It was the message I needed that day. “After this experience,” he casually said. “I haven’t had any problems. Some days I have issues maybe, but not problems.”

His simple words offered to me a clearer life view. In the scheme of things, we often see life’s hiccups or challenges as insurmountable problems. We lose a job, or financial security, break up a relationship, struggle with elder care, or find our dreams blocked. We see these as overwhelming problems crushing our lives.

But that day in Phoenix, a luncheon speaker with an amazing story put it in perspective. A problem is trying to survive when it’s thirty below zero, there’s no food, no winter equipment, and no one searching for you. Now when I have what I used to consider a problem I hear Nando’s words. “It’s only an issue, not a problem,” I repeat to myself. And what I know is this: the issues I can handle


Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008), and host of “Work Matters with Nan Russell” weekly on, Nan Russell has spent over 20 years in management, most recently with QVC as a vice president. Sign up to receive Nan’s “Winning at Working” tips and insights at


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